Pedestrian Malls are So 20th Century

I don’t like pedestrian malls. There, I said it. And it’s not because there aren’t some good ones, because clearly there are.

Let me explain. By the mid 60s, America’s race to the suburbs had left many downtowns in tough shape. Once vibrant streets, alive with the sounds of community and commerce, began to find themselves empty and foreboding after 5pm. And not that it mattered either, because the streets themselves — increasingly reengineered over the preceding decade to expedite the daily flow of workers into and out of the city — were no longer a place where any rational person would ever want to be anyways.

It was unprecedented. So it’s no surprise that, when faced with such challenges and no clear model for taking them on, many places went searching for a silver bullet cure-all. Which they found, in the form of the pedestrian mall.

Lock and load.

The idea seemed solid. Give multiple blocks over to pedestrians and, in the process, take on the new suburban malls with a compelling destination to draw crowds back downtown. Only, in most cases, it didn’t really work out that way.

Here’s why: The problem — at least the most visible one — was that we had relinquished our streets to the automobile, relegating all other users to second or third class status. We had taken the complexity of the public realm and dumbed it down into a single-use car sewer. Cars good, walking bad.

So how did we try to fix that? By doing the exact same thing, except in reverse. This time it was cars bad, walking good, which presents a similar set of problems because community doesn’t thrive in the all-or-nothing extremes of complexity reduction. Instead, the workable solutions tend to be the ones found in the messy middle ground, where culture and commerce intersect and competing interests are confronted and reconciled.

Now, that doesn’t mean that pedestrian malls are automatically doomed to fail. Some did thrive and continue to do so. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, we have a better understanding of why. Here in the U.S., the ones that work are the exception, not the rule, and they require some particular characteristics to flourish: high levels of tourist traffic occurring for reasons other than the mall is one; large populations of pedestrians (such as universities or dense intown housing) in close, walkable proximity is another. Consider Charlottesville, Virginia’s downtown mall or Miami’s Lincoln Road or NYC’s Times Square. Each benefits from not one but both of these conditions. As a result, foot traffic stays heavy and businesses can weather the hit of reduced accessibility.

For everyone else — the everyday places where pedestrian malls drove the final stake into an already dying downtown — there are lessons learned. And, thankfully, what’s in evidence today with our next generation efforts to humanize our streets and shared spaces is an increasing look at accommodation rather than prohibition. Everyone gives a little, everyone gets a little. Complete Streets, where cars are welcome, but biking and walking still thrive. As does convenience retail.

Today the conversation is about rethinking the street, who’s entitled to it, and how it gets used — which, it turns out, doesn’t have to always be the same way. Flexible street programming, we’re finding, can shift and morph to meet our ever-evolving exercise of community. Even on a day to day basis. Check out the following photos for some examples, all of which came across my desktop in the past week or two.

Photo shared by Danyel Aversenti via Facebook.

Photo shared by David Quick via Facebook.

Photo credit: Ponshop Art Studio, Fredericksburg, VA.

Photo credit: Streetsblog

So, yes, take back the streets. But take ‘em back for everyone. When any one class of user dominates the public realm, we all suffer.

–Scott Doyon

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  1. I don’t get to travel as much as I used to so maybe you can fill in the blanks for me: where are all these failed pedestrian malls? I need at least one or two supporting examples for this article to work for me. As is, every pedestrian mall that comes to my mind is someplace I’d rather be than not. And I can’t fathom why the cars should be brought back in. Please expand on this otherwise confusing post.

    • Robert Dennis says

      Steve, the best examples I can give you, that I have seen personally, are in
      Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Yuma, Arizona. Both of these areas were thriving, even booming, until government officials came in and said they had a better plan, a “cookie-cutter” plan that would work equally well in every city. In Las Cruces, for example, they closed off 7 blocks of the busiest street in the city,
      (which had 38,000 people back then, 105,000 now) and removed all traffic from the street (which was a federal highway, mind you), turned the street into a wide sidewalk and also destroyed the architecture of what was once one of the biggest intact historic districts in the country. They demolished entire blocks in addition to the downtown area, blocks where hundreds of people lived, and, by re routing traffic to two adjacent streets, forced drivers to drive past the backs of businesses that were half a block away and surrounded by large swaths of vacant land, which gave them absolutely no reason to stop and visit the downtown shops.. There wwre 160 businesses in that 7 block of Main Street before the mall, within 3 years of the mall’s opening, the number dropped to 90. When plans were announced in 2009 to revitalize downtown and restore that stretch of Main Street, there was only one business still open that was there when the mall was created. even though the street reopened just a few months ago, downtown is already coming back to life and there are alot of people who want to relocate downtown or have already begun to do so. The closing of Main Street and the demolition of one of the most historic downtown areas in the country has left bitter feelings that still exist today.

  2. Matt Korner says

    The biggest problem with pedestrian malls is their general inability to maintain an adequate amount of activity and eyes-from-the-street surveillance to make people feel safe and comfortable.

    As the article states, for them to be successful, open spaces as large as pedestrian malls require sufficient population density in the form of residents, visitors, students, office workers, etc. And, very few places are able to generate that amount of activity, especially 24 hours a day.

    A good example is the pedestrian mall of Riverside, California. Even though, William Whyte criticized this piece of urban design in his film, “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces,” the city recently, for reasons that are completely elusive to me, chose to spend a significant amount of money remodeling the space, but without doing the one thing the sociologist recommended: reintroduce the cars.

    Cars are not necessarily incompatible with the creation of a pedestrian paradise; they just have to be moving slowly enough. And, buffers (on-street parking, street trees, etc.) for pedestrians and cyclists are necessary in most situations.

  3. Matt Korner says

    A best practice that many places are employing is to design the public realm with removable bollards that allow car traffic to be redirected during the special times when pedestrian traffic in the area is especially high.

    Similarly, pedestrian passages between buildings are usually best gated in some way when an adequate amount of foot traffic is unable to be generated.

    Passages are different from pedestrian malls in the ability for the former to maintain visibility from the street by being relatively short and straight.

  4. Steve, thanks for the question. I think the reason for your perspective is that the malls you’ve experienced are among those that have thrived — likely for the reasons mentioned. But the reality is quite different. The most recent figures I’ve seen show that, over the course of the past four or five decades, about 200 street closure/pedestrian malls were installed. All but 30 or so have been ripped out or are on life support. That means that roughly 85% were disruptively injected into places that had no business doing so.

    Some everyday places where the silver bullet didn’t work (based on reports I’ve seen, not first-hand visits, so apologies if any of the details are loose):

    Buffalo Place Main Street Pedestrian Mall in Buffalo: Being ripped out and two-way traffic restored.

    St. Charles, MO, N. 14th Street Mall: Died a year or two ago after years on life-support.

    Walnut Street in Des Moines, Iowa: Removed and replaced with restored streets and transit hub.

    Etc. etc. And Matt does a nice job of reinforcing why cars should be accommodated on pedestrian terms rather than prohibited. The trick is designing for complexity and flexibility. We’ve tried the all-or-nothing approach and, for everyday places struggling the most, it didn’t work.

    • It seems important to assess the success of closing malls as well as opening them. How did business do after closing them? How about community interaction, involvement, commitment, the health of the citizens? If the only goal is allowing cars to move through, that’s a pretty low bar and clearly pedestrian areas don’t achieve that. Are your definitions of success and failure the same for pedestrian malls and roads the same? Perhaps they are both a failure depending on the goals set.

  5. Times Sq really isn’t a pedestrian mall or a transit mall or any kind of mall.

    They closed Broadway, yes, but 7th Ave is still open. All the cross streets are still open. Times Sq is more like a bit sidewalk widening project.

  6. Well then maybe the title should have been Pedestrian Malls Worth Keeping. And even then there is not absolute. I went from wanting to open Lincoln Road to traffic to the opposite, and I’m glad I was wrong at first!

  7. True, Randall, but I wanted to put the focus on the road forward for everyday communities rather than the exceptional places. Sadly, you can’t just tell Everytown, USA, “Want your pedestrian mall to work? Then start attracting lots of tourists and surround the mall with dense urban living.” They need street design that best serves their more modest contexts.

    (And I agree about Lincoln Road. Proof that “rip ’em all out” is just as short sighted as “a ped mall for everyone!”)

  8. S Walker says

    Just goes to show you, “One size fits all”, doesn’t. 🙂

  9. You do not like pedestrian malls. I guess you must detest most of Europe’s city centers. I do not like car noise and exhaust.
    It amazes me that people in the US are so protective of their precious cars. There are tens of thousands of miles of limited access highways, where it is illegal to walk or bike, but closing one street in a downtown area is considered a crime. Heaven forbid if Joe Schmo can’t drive his Hummer where ever he pleases.

  10. Matt Korner says

    One of the other advantages to allowing cars as part of complete streets is that retail gets to have on-street parking in front of the stores. While “park-once” behavior among motorists should be encouraged, a certain amount of convenience, flexibility, and accessibility also has value.

  11. Quite the contrary, AO. European city centers (like successful examples in the US) thrive because they meet the criteria I mention above. They’re dense and have high pedestrian populations and the malls provide wonderful environments for local culture to unfold and prosper. I enjoy them very much.

    What I don’t enjoy is American cities (or any city, really) being sold on a one-size-fits-all design solution totally removed from local economics, culture, and behavioral patterns (which is what happened in much of the States), and making infrastructure investments that they have no means of supporting thereafter.

    If US cities want to become more “European” (which would do us a lot of good, IMO), most have much work to do to build themselves up — both culturally and physically — before they’re in a position to support a pedestrian mall in a viable way. That’s not speculation. The past half century documents what happens if you don’t.

    Start with efforts that build a pedestrian culture. Then respond with the infrastructure that reflects it.

  12. Huntington, WV had a failed pedestrian mall in the 70s and 80s, and has turned it back to a more complete street, thought downtown is still suffering. Spartanburg, SC–failed pedestrian mall now open to cars and still suffering. Boulder, CO–great pedestrian mall.

  13. You started your piece with a blanket statement that you do not like pedestrian malls (even though there are clearly some good ones). These are your words, not mine. Perhaps you are a victim of the prevailing attitude in the US that equates driving with freedom. It is this attitude that prevents cities from developing walker-friendly transit-oriented design. There are some cities that could benefit from pedestrianized streets, but are likey afraid to even suggest such a plan given these prejudices. Of course, one-size-fits-all solutions are not the answer. Neither should discounting pedestrian streets altogether.

  14. European city centers are a totally different animal. Most have much narrower street widths, which allow for a density of pedestrians completely impossible in most American downtowns because these wide streets were often designed for 6 lanes of traffic. It has nothing to do with loving cars, it’s the reality of the design and there is no way to move the buildings closer together now. That was the major problem with the pedestrian mall in downtown Buffalo- no matter how many pedestrians are there, it never feels busy because the street is so wide. It also ignored the historic patterns of how people in the city used the streets. This shot shows how wide and empty most of Main Street in Buffalo is today:

    Also, if we look at major shopping areas in most large European cities, they have not entirely pedestrianized their shopping districts. Oxford Street in London has been narrowed, but it still allows buses and taxis, and most of Paris has heavy automobile traffic at all hours. Las Ramblas in Barcelona has a fantastic design that accommodates all users.

  15. For the most part, I agree with the article. Pedestrians tend to stick to the sides of the street, anyway, because that is where they find the most interesting things happening. Car traffic does add to the vitality of a street, as long as it’s slow and reduced in volume.
    On the other hand, most of our modern public spaces suffer from a lack of vitality. Is the failure of pedestrian malls caused entirely by the fact that they are pedsestrian malls, or is it caused mostly by the same things that cause so many plazas and other open spaces to fail? Could part of the problem be that we treat them as shopping streets? I think any public space needs to be surrounded by a mix of uses to be vital. You don’t just want shoppers and workers on their lunch breaks, because, of course, they will only be there during part of the day. You need at least a few residents living along the street for there to be eyes on the street 24/7. Just bringing back cars won’t help if the drivers have no reason to stop at night or less busy times of day.

  16. I like your juxtaposition of our pushing pedestrians out of central cities with pushing cars out of pedestrian malls — and especially your point that “community doesn’t thrive in the all-or-nothing extremes of complexity reduction.” Exactly! Complexity is the key… and the challenge. I had some similar thoughts in a blog post a few years ago about us cherry-picking things that seemed to work in Europe and just plunking them down into a completely ill-suited American/Canadian context:

  17. Americans are too car dependent. I love the European model of fewer – and smaller – cars and narrow streets with a historic, pre-automobile scale. However, don’t forget many historic European towns have problematic one-way perimeter roads that are congested, exhaust-filled, unfriendly to pedestrians, and can force you to circle the whole city before you can travel out of town, depending on where you find yourself on the circle.

    For less dense US cities, keeping cars off wide streets does not make sense, especially where retail is competing with the ubiquitous suburban malls. For pedestrian-only spaces, we need narrow streets and alleys as well as density. Boston’s North End, Nantucket, and many other historic towns could successfully accommodate a few more pedestrian-only or resident/merchant-vehicle-only streets. As for future design – I’ve run across resistance from old school architects, planners, city officials and laymen when I’ve proposed streets closer to the scale of these historic places.

    We do need to educate Americans to scale down and drive less. But AO, don’t point the finger at a professional like Scott who is proposing a practical solution for existing typical US Main Streets. If’ you have a better idea, let’s hear it.

  18. Most European cities do have smaller streets and I do think they make better pedestrianized areas.

    My problem with this whole discussion is that America has pretty much decided that we are a car country and that is it, end of discussion. This article’s first paragraph sets the tone. He doesn’t like pedestrian malls even though there are clearly some good ones. He will not betray his love for his car to even like a street which he cannot drive upon.

    Mark doesn’t think that designing roads with six lanes in the middle of the city has anything to do with loving cars but rather the “reality” of the design. This is the same reasoning that leads to so many buildings razed for parking. Where else are we going to park, right?

    Cars are so ingrained in our psyche that we have made ourselves believe America is in an alternate universe where European sensibilities cannot ever be applied. The mere suggestion that some cities might benefit from having one pedestrianized street causes so much of a fuss.

    I have not stated that we entirely pedestrianized our shopping districts, but how about just one street, just a few blocks, a little walkway without having to inhale exhaust fumes?

    Las Ramblas does accommodate cars but Barcelona and Madrid have plenty of streets that are without autos. Same goes for Buenos Aires and Cordoba, Argentina, Santiago, Chile etc. These streets are almost always the busiest for shopping.

  19. It’s fine to make this a discussion of my words, AO, but at least consider all of them. Such as where I say that re-engineering streets for cars made them uninhabitable. Or where I say that our actions dumbed down the complexity of our shared environment into nothing more than car sewers. Hardly the ravings of a car apologist.

    Clearly I’m not pro car, so much as I’m pro-community and an advocate for equitably serving the complexity that represents. I choose to heed the lessons of the past and believe context — cultural, behavioral, political, economic and environmental — should dictate design. Most towns and cities in America simply cannot support a pedestrian mall and there is much work to be done — establishing centers of density and more robust and varied street networks for starters — before they’d ever be in a position to do so.

    They’re free to do that hard work if they choose. In fact, I’d applaud them for doing so. But for now, I’d be derelict in suggesting they should just build a ped mall and the crowds will materialize. That snake oil just doesn’t cut it anymore.

  20. I don’t know if these qualified as failed pedestrian malls (they have seen better days): Kalamazoo, MI and Fresno, CA.

  21. Scott. You wrote that do not like pedestrian malls even though you admit there are clearly some good ones. If they are good, what’s not to like? It seems to me that what you do not like about them is the exclusion of autos.

    You want America’s culture to dictate urban design. The problem with this is that America is a car culture. Urban design should not be formed with a suburban mentality. That is how Houstons happen.

    I got a good laugh with your comment that you are not pro-car but a pro-community advocate. That is great labeling. I am surprised you did not say you were pro-American, which I guess would make me an anti-community socialist? It seems your idea of equitable service is that every street and every store should be accessible by cars. Shopping plazas for everyone, yay!

    I am not selling snake oil. I do not believe that blindly placing them randomly in Anytown, USA will cure all of society’s ills, but there are many cities that could benefit from one pedestrian street. I have lived in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Each of these cities has centers of density that make it possible to have at least one pedestrianized street. The problem is people in America cling to their cars and the mere thought not having access to just one street creates hysteria (by those who drive into the cities, not so much by those who live in them).

  22. Scott,
    This is an interesting article about the complexities and nuances of pedestrian malls. Sadly, you begin with an altogether oversimplified statement of “I don’t like pedestrian malls”, which is every bit as categorical as the “ped malls are good” notion that you debunk in the rest of this otherwise well-written article. Ironic, don’t you think?

  23. I won’t deny a little overkill up front in the name of drawing folks in, J, but I was careful not to say something definitive like “Ped malls are bad.” “I don’t like them” is my present opinion, but I go on to explain that this is largely due to their overwhelming degree of misapplication over the past fifty years. I think the pleasant idea of them tends to entice a lot of places that have many baby steps to take before they’re ready and, for a lot of them, they just don’t have the money anymore for that type of gamble.

    In coming years, they could certainly come to impress me, just as European malls or our own successful examples have. We just made the mistake of jumping too far ahead the last time around. Most of our communities simply weren’t ready for them and required too much of a culture shift to make them viable. If we want to work our way to a much more pedestrian culture (I certainly do), we need to start with taking what we have and making it more humane, in the process developing dense activity centers and varied, interconnected street networks. Then, once demand is in place, we may find the game has changed and the timing has become right for new, ped-specific infrastructure.

  24. AO- Buffalo’s Main Street (my example) was designed long before cars came on the scene and the width has nothing to do with loving cars. However, without car traffic on at least part of it there is no way to get enough pedestrian traffic to fill the street (I believe it is about 100 feet wide). I completely agree with you that a few small car-free areas make for a fantastic oasis in a city, however a mile-long pedestrian mall in an area that has become extremely auto-dependent is an exercise in futility. You can not force people to change their behavior solely via urban design, and the failure of pedestrian malls like this are proof of that. Buildings get torn down for parking mostly because the parking lot ends up being more profitable than the building it replaced. The best thing we could do to improve cities is to remove a lot of the subsidies that allow people to drive so cheaply – then we’ll see more demand for walkable downtowns all over the country. Young people today are driving less than the generations before them and walkable neighborhoods have held their value extremely well during the recession (especially compared to far-flung suburbs) so I have hope for the future.

    I live in San Francisco, and we’ve certainly not decided to embrace a car culture at all. In fact, we’re ripping out freeways here and turning them over to slower streets with wide sidewalks and bike lanes because the demand is already here. Hopefully this type of thinking will spread elsewhere.

  25. Mark, You make a lot of specific points about this street in Buffalo. I know nothing about this pedestrian mall. Buffalo is city of only 260,000, which leads me to believe that the population density is very low. I imagine that that Buffalo had a whole buffet of problems well before this mall was established.
    I have no control over whether or not pedestrian malls were over-sold or over-hyped in the past 50 years. I am sure that some mall locations were poorly chosen and/or poorly executed. I wish these malls were marketed differently. I just want a few blocks in the city to walk, shop, without the constant stench and noise of street traffic. Perhaps if these malls were in the past promoted as urban refuges instead of miracle cures for urban decay there would be less hostility toward them today.

    I stick to my point is that America is fanatical about its cars and that this attitude dictates and degrades urban design. This attitude appears to have seeped into your reasoning. You seem very laissez-faire that buildings are torn down for parking simply for short-term profit. I think if people want ample cheap parking and six lanes of traffic, they should stay in the suburbs.

  26. Right on — even Burlington, VT’s Church Street (a great ped mall) is punctuated occasionally by through streets which bring in liveliness. In Portland, ME, they tried shutting down a primary commercial retail street to cars, and it failed, probably for the reasons you mentioned. Great post.

  27. Allow me the opportunity to chime in from the Pacific Northwest area. A side of the country born and ravaged out of the golden age of the automobile, the vastness of highway construction and the fallacy of the “American Dream.” The malls out here are either limping by or flourishing, but none are failing. AO’s claim that “Americans love their cars,” “America is fanatical about its cars,” “America is a car culture,” is not one that’s realized out here. Yes, that’s where it started, but now most Cities here (Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, OR for example) are scrambling to make policy, planning and design changes for more complete streets. Pedestrian friendly sidewalks and intersection, better transit, bicycle lanes, zero-net emission everywhere, waterfront access, mixed-uses, New Urbanism; you name it and we’re fighting for it. “War on Cars” frequent the Seattle Times headlines.

    Before reading this article (by the way, thanks Scott) I was all for redesigning the limping malls here to include the full gambit of retail, entertainment, transit, multi-family, parks and businesses to bring people in and make the area thrive. Not once did I think about the streets and the number of pedestrian barriers that currently exist. As I mentioned, none of the malls in my area are failing which is unfortunate because it means they will continue to limp by just as they are. No change, growth, redevelopment or improvements moving into a more walkable city and less car oriented era. Yes, I believe we are headed in that direction in American, despite the slow pace.
    Let me make one disclamer for myself. I do not not want to elimenate cars all together (maybe just the prtolium fueled one), but want to see the options in urban design and policy for a multitude of transporation choices within a city. The majority right now is oriented towards automobiles. It’s not that people “love” automobiles, it’s that we’ve given people no choice. Descussions like the one here bring people to think of ways to include other forms. It’s going to take a while, but I already see the trend for giving some streets back to pedestrian, some back to cyclists, some back to transit and as long as we don’t go to the other extreme, cars will still have their streets too.

  28. Kenneth George,
    This piece is about Scott’s disdain for the pedestrian mall. I am not sure where exactly you stand on this. You said you see us heading in the direction of giving some streets back to pedestrians…as long as we do not go to the other extreme. Nobody has proposed in any of these comments that we take many multiple streets in a given city and make them ped malls. The problem is that having even one pedestrian street regardless of how large appears to be regarded as extreme by car-fanatics. You are not going to convince me that by and large American’s are not car-fanatics.

    You said, “It’s not that people “love” automobiles, it’s that we’ve given people no choice.” Do you really believe this? No choice? Do you own a car and use it on a daily basis? Didn’t you choose where to work and live? Sometimes I take public transit to work, but most days I ride my bike. I have never owned a car. I made a choice to live in walkable communities.
    You mentioned Seattle’s “War on Cars.” If Americans were so happy to give up their cars for alternative means, why is this there a need for a “War?” If they did not love their cars, I would think they would embrace policy that would provide them with with transit options. I have seen many promising stories regarding urban policy and design in the Pacific Northwest, but most of these cities have a long way to go undo the damage caused since the birth of the auto age.

  29. AO,

    I’m very confident that buildings are torn down for short-term profit. That is why nearly everything is done in this country. That is also why most development happens in the suburbs in many metropolitan areas- construction costs and land are cheap and it’s harder to get financing for projects that don’t include enough parking. This is an unfortunate reality in this country.

    I similarly ride my bike everywhere and don’t own a car. Unfortunately, many people want ample parking and have already emptied out many of our cities for the suburbs. The key to revitalizing our cities is finding successful ways to attract them back downtown OTHER THAN parking and to provide a lifestyle that is more enriching that driving to strip malls to buy groceries.

    I have no idea why you think I’m “laissez-faire” about this issue. You seem to like putting words in other people’s mouths. I became an architect out of an interest in preservation and a desire to replace parking lots with something better. I spend a significant part of my free time advocating for things like replacing traffic lanes with bike lanes. Here’s the latest thing we’re working on at my office:


  30. Mark,
    I think we do agree on several important points. You seem to think that urban design and policy can be used as tools to revitalize downtowns. I agree.

    My original argument was in response to Scott’s thorough contempt for pedestrian malls. I believe that limited pedestrian streets in some circumstances can be positive additions to some downtowns. Scott dislikes them regardless of whether they are good or bad. You posted “a few small car-free areas make for a fantastic oasis in a city,” so, perhaps you agree with me to a degree on this?

    Sorry if you feel I put words in your mouth. When you wrote, “Buildings get torn down for parking mostly because the parking lot ends up being more profitable than the building it replaced,” you did not state in that segment that this was unacceptable or even misfortunate. I read this as being apologetic or at very least defeatist about the subject. Thank you for making your point about this clearer.

    I guess I am too passionate to be practical about urban design. I want us to have the urban centers as they do in Europe. I want people not to build their lives around their walk to work not their cars. I think that the overwhelming majority of Americans would not consider curtailing their driving habits. I think this is a conscious choice. I think these people should stay in the suburbs. I do not think downtowns should be designed for them in mind. Again, I know this is not a practical attitude to have.

    I took a look at the Second Street project and I like it very much. That said, it seems that bike lanes in San Francisco have met with a fair amount of opposition and lawsuits. I bet some (not me) would consider this forcing urban design on an unwilling public. How is taking a lane of parking or traffic to accommodate 3.5% of the (biking) public different than taking a street and making it a pedestrian mall?

    I think the difference is that success for bike lanes and pedestrian malls are measured far differently. The success of pedestrian malls is usually tied primarily to sales numbers. Pedestrian malls are seen as failures if the businesses do not profit. Many ped malls were established in downtowns as a last resort, well after decline had taken root. Ped malls were deemed as failures because they did not reverse this decline. Quality of life and health benefits do not seem to be weighed at all. Bike advocates depend on these factors to justify bike lakes given their relative low-use. I think the advocates make a valid argument. I just thought this is a mildly interesting comparison.

  31. AO-

    While only 3.5% of the public commutes to work by bike in San Francisco, a much larger percentage cycles on a regular basis for transportation. In some parts of the city bicycle traffic has increased to the point where bicycles outnumber motor vehicles at some times of the day.

    The lawsuit you mention was filed by one noisy advocate who is very anti-bicycle. This resulted in the city having to do an EIR for the bike plan, which in the end created a much better bicycle strategy for the city that has been pretty well received by the public. The 2nd Street project was the subject of a recent public meeting that drew well over 100 people from the neighborhood. When people split into 12 groups to propose alternatives for the street design, every single group advocated for the removal of automobile lanes from the street (and this obviously included people who own cars and drive in the area).

    The difference between a bike lane and a pedestrian mall is that adding a bike lane while removing some automobile capacity still accommodates all of the users. Most areas in San Francisco that have added bicycle lanes have also had other streetscape improvements to slow automobile traffic and improve pedestrian safety (bulb-outs at intersections, raised crosswalks etc). I think a holistic approach to street design, as advocated in the original post, that tries to accommodate all users and stops making cars the number one priority (as has been the case for nearly a century) is the easiest for the public to accept, at least in a city like San Francisco where a large number of people don’t drive everywhere they go (and a third of households don’t even own cars). In some places, a pedestrian mall probably makes sense, but I would say it works better in a place that already has very dense foot traffic like Times Square in New York or in a small area like the new(ish) Mint Plaza in San Francisco:

  32. Again, I think we largely agree. Of course pedestrian malls work better in high-density areas. I never advocated placing them randomly. My opinion is likely influenced by the fact I have lived in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia (all fairly dense cities) and some of my most memorable experiences traveling (in cities) took place in pedestrianized streets.

  33. Building a pedestrian or transit mall is not always a good idea. To work, one must already be surrounded by a critical mass of pedestrians. But if it’s used to revitalize a declining street, it will only accelerate that street’s decline by further isolating it.

    That said, the most overdue of these potential malls in America is Market Street in San Francisco. It’s the city’s most heavily trafficked one for transit, bikes and pedestrians. But it is now being congested by automobiles, which are mostly driven by people looking for parking—even though there’s none on the street. These autos should be disallowed, so that Market becomes a transit mall. To read about what the city is doing to encourage this visit:


  1. […] On the surface, it seems like such a great idea, yet somehow still draws a lot of ire. For example, this recent post over at PlaceShakers and […]

  2. […] Doyon recently pointed out the challenges of pedestrian malls, along with the places in which they work. Montreal is clearly such a place, with large populations […]

  3. […] From a placemaking perspective, experimentation has not been kind to our cities; e.g.’s, pedestrian malls, suburban building types in urban settings, one way streets, bans on mixed use, sunken plazas, etc. […]

  4. […] we placeshakers usually discourage mono-cultures where the car is banned, we do recognize that in a few careful instances, it works. For me, the message isn’t so much the limited modes of transportation allowed at […]

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